Identity: who decides who you think you are?

Throughout our lives, possibly the greatest question we have about ourselves is, "Who am I?" It starts when we are very young, when we realise we are separate from our parents. One of the questions I often ask my clients when we start working together is, "Who are you?" It's not an easy question to answer! However, it sparks an inquiry. My follow-up question is often, "Do you believe that who you are is fixed or that it changes all the time?" It certainly gets the ball rolling.


As human beings, many of our challenges arise from how we see ourselves

Sometimes in life, we pursue things that we see other people have, or we pursue things that we perceive other people think of as being coveted or prized. We see some things as things that we should want, and we act as if we want them – even when we don’t.

In trying to fit in with society, we may bend and twist ourselves into what we think is acceptable to others.

The looking-glass self

In the early 1900s, American psychologist Charles Cooley talked about the ‘looking-glass self’ where a person's concept of ‘self’ is a self that grows out of the received interpersonal perceptions of others and of society. The looking-glass self is created through the imagination of how our 'self' might be viewed through the eyes of another individual. 

So, consider this (and I recommend you read it at least a couple of times): what if I’m not what I think I am? What if I’m not what you think I am? What if I am what I think you think I am?

Mind blown?

We live in the perception of a perception of ourselves – we base our ‘self’ or our identity on what we think other people think about us.

Often, we pursue things in life because we think other people value them – and we think that, if they value those things, then we should value them too. But why should we? The result is that we are living a pretence and we can't tell anyone about it or our cover would be blown - we'd be revealed as an imposter.


The world is a noisy place and getting increasingly noisier.

Our attention is constantly being pulled in many directions. It can really take something for us to choose what is right for us, and what’s important for us as an individual - and to take a stand for ourselves. It’s almost as if we have to create boundaries around ourselves to prevent having to be in constant communication, in order to provide ourselves with some solitude in which we can really look inwardly at what it is we really want - to allow ourselves to actually accept who we really are and what we really want. Perhaps some of us are too conditioned to even be able to see what's right in front of us.

French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal famously said that all of humanity’s suffering could be reduced to our inability to sit quietly in a room alone. I think this has much to offer us. It is easy to fill our downtime with technology and to numb our feelings or avoid them and carry on regardless.

It is much harder to get in touch with the truth about what we value, how we would really like to spend our lives, to acknowledge what we’re feeling and to speak authentically about it to the people who perhaps mean most to us. Pascal said, "We know the truth, not only by the reason but also by the heart."

Two men chatting at table

Trusted supporter

A trusted supporter can help you gain clarity and move forward.

Sometimes it is easier to talk to a trusted supporter who can point out things that you might have missed, or that have gone under your radar – someone who isn’t afraid to walk into the messiness with you. Your goals are yours and maybe others don’t really understand them or why you might want those things.

Yes – maybe what you think you are is not what others think you are, maybe they will be surprised and you will feel uncomfortable. When I do this work with my clients it is like a shared endeavour where we investigate the muddy ponds and see what we can see.

The decisions each of us make reflect our values and beliefs. A value is a 'hot button' that drives behaviour. That purpose is the satisfaction of our individual or collective (maybe organisational) needs. Every value you hold will take you towards a pleasurable feeling or away from uncomfortable feelings or pain.

Change your fortune

My client Matthew, a senior executive in a Fintech Company, got in touch with me when he realised that, for longer than he could remember, on Sunday nights he found himself dreading the week ahead. Life felt like something to be got through, rather than enjoyed. He didn’t want to carry on like that any longer, and didn’t know what to do about it. It took courage for him to admit that to himself - and to his family - but the results he has achieved from this 'supported enquiry' have changed both his life and his fortune for the better.

My client Lisa had a seven-year career as a senior manager in an engineering company but was haunted by a feeling that life was passing her by and could not get away from the feeling that she was living someone else's life. Having never allowed herself to dream of what might be possible, if she could just stop caring what other people think, she found it hard to upturn other people's expectations. As a result of us working together, she resigned, sold her house and went travelling.

I see her occasional posts on social media and the smile on her face is a beautiful thing to see. She knows that so much more is now available to her because of the changes she has made.

Small changes can have a big impact

The examples I have given above are of people who have made what we may think are 'significant' changes in their lives, and I have many other examples of people who I have helped to make much smaller changes that still have a big impact on their daily lives and the way they now live them.

If 2020 taught us anything, it is surely that there is no such thing as ‘normal’.
If you want to explore what a new normal might look like for you, please get in touch and let's talk.

Life Coach Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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London EC2A & Stoke Newington N16
Written by Caroline Stagg, Holistic work/life career transformation. BScPsych, NLPMstr
London EC2A & Stoke Newington N16

I work with ambitious professionals, maximising their critical skills and strengths to create better results with less effort, doing work they love AND maintain a balanced life.

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